Public colleges and universities see themselves as providing a public service. The U.S., at least its ideal, depends on its citizens to make decisions, serve in the military and work for the greater good. As such, the character of the country reflects the character of its citizens.
It follows that if we want to live in a better country–if we want our country to live up to the ideals that it espouses–we need to cultivate citizens who uphold those ideals.
Democratic societies make decisions through public vote, which requires public discussion of ideas and policies. This fundamental requirement for debate requires an educated public, for a society that cannot discuss ideas cannot come to rational, deliberate decisions.
Those entrusted to make decisions in a society must be educated in such a way that each individual, in accordance with their natural endowments, can fully contribute to the well-being of others in their society.
Colleges and Universities in a democratic society have an obligation to train members of that society to equip them to participate in the democratic process—in short, to be citizens.
That is one of the traditional mission of public institutions. While many have drifted from this historical ideal, there are still a few out there that hold their students to the high standards of engaged citizenship.
These days, though, it is more common to hear talk of ‘global citizenship’ rather than ‘national citizenship.’ The concept is fundamentally the same in education, so institutions strive educate individuals who will serve the good of the whole planet, not just the U.S.
A school could also focus on the local, emphasizing responsible citizenship on a local level.
These schools emphasize the cultivation of individuals who accept responsibility for the well-being of the community, and have the ability to contribute to the public good.